Russian reformers seek an anti-fascist coalition

December 16, 1993|By Will Englund | Will Englund,Moscow Bureau

MOSCOW -- Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev, a leading democrat, called yesterday for a broad "anti-fascist" coalition in parliament that would include the Communist Party.

It sounded like an echo from an earlier era.

Just as a variety of liberal, socialist and Communist groups banded together to fight Hitler in the 1930s, Mr. Kozyrev said the time had come for a new united front in Russia -- to resist the advance of Vladimir V. Zhirinovsky, the ultra-nationalist who came out on top in Sunday's elections.

Mr. Kozyrev, who has spent the last two years leading Russian foreign policy out of the Soviet traces, invoked yesterday the Communists' venerable history in the fight against fascism.

"We differ with the Communists on the significance of economic reforms in Russia," he said, "but we are close to them on many other issues."

The Russia's Choice reform bloc seconded his appeal late in the day, as did a group of leading intellectuals.

A rival democrat, Sergei Shakhrai, compared Russia today to the Germany of 1933 and said he, too, would be willing to work with the Communists to stop Mr. Zhirinovsky, who heads the Liberal Democratic Party. "We are on the threshold of hard times and facing the threat of a civil war," Mr. Shakhrai told the Interfax news agency.

With the success of Mr. Zhirinovsky Liberal Democrats, he said, "Russia can become a factor of instability in the world." His is a party, Mr. Shakhrai added, "that would inevitably lead Russia to fascism."

There are several good reasons to believe that a firm alliance between the Communists and the democrats could never hold, that it would be an occasional convergence at best. Even Mr. Shakhrai admitted as much.

The democrats themselves have a poor record when it comes to unity, although Mr. Zhirinovsky strong showing at the polls is helping to drive them together.

But the burst of denunciations, the use of such terms as "fascism" and "Nazi demagogy," raises the question of just what sort of politician Mr. Zhirinovsky is.

Rumpled phenomenon

He's not so much a Hitler or a Mussolini, perhaps, as a uniquely Russian phenomenon.

He says outrageous things one moment and perfectly reasonable things the next. He objects to being compared to Hitler. Although he has on occasion decked himself out in fatigues, he's much more likely to show up wearing a rumpled, disorganized businessman's suit, his shoes well-scuffed.

The No. 2 candidate in his party was Anatoly Kashpirovsky, a TV faith healer.

Mr. Kashpirovsky is widely believed here to have psychic powers, and yesterday a pro-market and respectable politician, Konstantin Borovoi, charged that Mr. Kashpirovsky had helped Mr. Zhirinovsky to mesmerize television viewers and induce them to vote for the Liberal Democrats.

It was, Mr. Borovoi said, nothing less than the hypnotic hijacking of an entire election.

And it was not at all hard to find ordinary voters who completely agreed. Lena Yemilyanova, for instance, an 84-year-old former newspaper and radio reporter, was asked about the Liberal Democrats while she was waiting to buy a loaf of bread, and she shuddered and mentioned Mr. Kashpirovsky.

"I know he helped Zhirinovsky," she said. "I always turned off the television when he came on.

"You know," she added, "everybody knows Zhirinovsky crazy."

There's another way in which Mr. Zhirinovsky does not seem to be an ordinary fascist. It's hard to imagine him getting the trains to run on time.

A centrist politician, Nikolai Travkin, said President Boris N. Yeltsin should simply show him up by appointing him governor in some region where he had won a lot of votes.

"In three weeks," Mr. Travkin told Interfax, "not only buses, but also sewage facilities, would be at a standstill there."

Many Russians view Mr. Zhirinovsky not as a single-minded fascist but as a potentially dangerous figurehead being used by unsavory forces in the country.

KGB ties?

The newspaper Segodnya worried yesterday about the former high-ranking KGB officers in Mr. Zhirinovsky's shadow cabinet. One, Sergei Abeltsev, said he wanted to recall ex-KGB agents to fight crime.

As a young lawyer, Mr. Zhirinovsky was sent with a trade mission to Turkey, a NATO country -- an assignment he could not have received without KGB clearance, at least. In fact, the Turks arrested him and held him briefly in jail, as a spy, before sending him back to Moscow.

Some reformers were suggesting yesterday that Mr. Zhirinovsky potential political power may have been overestimated.

His Liberal Democratic Party led the field in the proportional balloting, with 23.9 percent of all votes, according to the latest figures. But that only accounts for half the Duma, or lower house of the legislature. The other half will be filled from 224 individual districts.

As of yesterday, results were in on 193 of those, of which the Liberal Democrats had captured just 3.

This greatly reduces their proportionate size within the Duma.

Russia's Choice, which was second in the proportional vote, easily led the way with 27 district victories. Nikolai Medvedev, a presidential aide, said he expected Russia's Choice to capture a significant number of the 31 seats still outstanding.

In very rough terms, this will probably leave the Duma with about 30 percent reformers, less than 30 percent Liberal Democrats, and about 25 percent Communists and their allies, with independents and small parties accounting for the remainder. No single group will be able to force through laws, because they are subject to veto both by the upper house, composed of veteran local political leaders, and by Mr. Yeltsin.

A two-thirds vote is required to override such a veto, something the Liberal Democrats, or any other group acting alone, could not muster.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.